Cardiovascular risk can be simply defined as the odds of having a cardiac event in the near future. An event could be anything from a mild attack of angina to a myocardial infarction (heart attack). The event could be due to underlying atherosclerosis, hypertension, hypercoagulation, plaque rupture, or other causes. The point of measuring cardiovascular risk markers is that we hope to be able to gauge our risk by uncovering pathologies that affect the cardiovascular system. Most lab testing is aimed at ruling disease in or out, or is aimed at monitoring disease. Cardiovascular risk marker testing is different in that it is used to help estimate the risk for future disease.
The most common cardiovascular pathology is atherosclerosis. Other cardiovascular pathologies whose odds increase as serum lipids and other cardiovascular markers become suboptimal are myocardial infarction, stroke, congestive heart disease and coronary artery disease. Other diseases such as diabetes and the metabolic syndrome are also strongly associated with the classic cardiovascular risk markers of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), high-density lipoprotein (HDL-C), and triglycerides.
Measuring serum lipids helps clinicians gain insight into a patient's cardiovascular health. It is well
known, even by the general public, that LDL-C ('bad' cholesterol) concentrations should be low while HDL-C ('good' cholesterol) concentrations should be high. Triglycerides should be kept low as well. Optimal levels of these lipids are shown in the table below.